It was dark out.
I’m not talking about normal, city type dark… not the kind that has the hover of a street lamp, or the shadow of some asshole’s headlights in the distance… No.
This was out in the sticks, moon creeping over whatever hill was in front of you darkness.
There were four of us; Rob, Stacy, James, and me. We had a flashlight, but we couldn’t keep it on forever. Light brought attention, and attention woke the local security guard sleeping through his shift. Hampton Institution had been abandoned for years, but for some strange reason, the town had still decided to put a small security post at the center of their make-shift twelve-mile fence.
And they expected four teenagers not to hop it and go exploring.
Rob was at the front, as always, barking orders. He had the lone flashlight illuminating our path through the woods. I can still remember Stacy at the back of the group, grumbling about the thorns poking their way through her flats as we came across the spot.
There was an old gnarled tree that leaned over the fence at one point, at least a mile from the security post. Rob looked around quickly, tossed me his cell phone, and was over in a minute. He grinned widely from the other side, prancing back and forth like a jackass as the rest of us struggled over.
In ten minutes, it was as simple as that. We were technically trespassing, of course, but wasn’t it our right to know what was in there?
Of course not, but we didn’t realize that then.
The Institution grounds were still a half mile or so in the other direction, or so we had heard. It had closed down years ago, due to underfunding or whatever other reasons. But the nature of its existence and practices were and still are largely unknown to the local population. The only thing we did know, through public records, was that the Institution housed the mentally ill population of our state for much of the early twentieth century. Since its closure in the sixties, the general public has not been allowed anywhere near the enormous enclosure.
As soon as James finished complaining about the scrape on his arm, we set off through the wooded enclosure. I think we were all scared, but naturally, were more afraid of being judged for showing it. The air felt different here… stiller, quieter. It’s hard to describe, but it was like you could hear everything in the enclosed area, even if it was miles away. When a deer started running a hundred feet away, we all nearly jumped out of our skin.
And we hadn’t been walking more than ten minutes when we came across the first house.
It was odd, really. I had been expecting a mile-wide prison, or hospital of sorts. But here this house stood, no more than a mile from the road with a single well in the backyard and a half paved driveway leading nowhere.
We stood in front of the front page, staring at the building, then at each other. After a bit of bickering, we decided to investigate. Stacy hung back as ‘lookout’ while Rob marched up stairs, and cranked open the rusted hinges and warped wood door.
It wasn’t big, but what it lost in size, it made up for in smell. There was one large, hallway-esque living room on the first floor, and a bedroom on the first. The dining room had a large, Victorian-era type table with an immaculate white table setting. Besides the overwhelming stench of must, and the uncomfortable urge to sneeze, the house was freezing. It was 90 degrees outside, but in the house, it felt like fifty.
But that wasn’t what creeped us out.
When we looked in each of the rooms, it looked as though everything had been left perfectly. As if someone had left without packing, almost. There was a coaster on the dining room table, with a half drank glass. Beside it was a full ashtray, and a chair turned ajar to the door. We checked the cabinet to find it was full of dishes and silverware, and the sink had a couple stray dishes, with the soap bottle lying next to them.
We just kind of stood there, after a while, staring confusedly at the room. After five minutes, Rob shrugged and headed out, apparently satisfied as he quickly suggested that we should leave before the floor collapsed. I agreed, and we all got out of there pretty quickly. After leaving the house and accidently breaking the old front door (Rob’s doing, not mine) we quietly filled Stacy in on what we saw. Rob, her boyfriend, blew her off and headed down the path to investigate further. We reluctantly followed him.
Further down the path, we came across a neighborhood of houses. There’s really no other way to describe it. Here we were, investigating a possibly closed mental institution, and we found suburban paradise, a makeshift cul-de-sac. There were porches, front lawns, back yards, white picket fences, the works. There were even driveways leading out to nothing but grass, as with the other house. But there weren’t any cars.
For a while, we just kind of stared. Some of the houses had started to cave in over time. After the front porch, the hallway dropped off into the basement. But a few were left intact, so we split up and investigated; Rob and Stacy took the house closest, and me and James set off across the street.
The garage was open in ours, and there were still kids’ toys and bicycles inside.
After carefully prying open the door and checking for weak spots in the floor, we headed inside the house. There was a small hallway, like the other, that connected to a dining room and kitchen before turning to the stairway. We turned the corner into the dining room, and stopped in our tracks.
In the dining room, there was a large wooden table with multiple seats positioned on either side. There was a large black table cloth, nearly positioned across the table with silver embroidering. Each spot on the table had a neat coaster, with a half-full glass ashtray. I remember panicking, backing up into the wall behind me and gripping it as I stared with my mouth agape. After a moment, I felt James do the same, landing on the spot next to me and breathing raggedly. But I couldn’t bring myself to look at him, I couldn’t take my eyes off this perfect table setting. It was like I could see the shapes of people meeting here, arguing, about something, sipping neat cocktails and brandishing cigarettes. Every seat was empty, but it was as if the scene had been preserved in time.
James’ breathe grew louder beside me. After what seemed like an eternity, I was able to tear my gaze from the table as the ragged breathes beside me turned to words.
“You’re home late, hunny, they already finished the ceremony.”
Standing before me, facing me as clear as day, was the shade of an elderly woman, of that I’m certain. But in that instance, I only saw her face.
She was smiling.
I bolted. Simple as that. At this point, my wits were so shot, I couldn’t tell if my imagination was working against me or if that was actually what I thought. I didn’t care. Something built up inside me and said ‘RUN, MORON.’
And so I did. I sent a chair flying in the process, scrambling around the corner to the hallway, throwing over a chair in the process. I heard the woman howl behind me as I did, heard her footsteps and her breath on my shoulder as I lowered my shoulder into the door, and burst out into the freedom of open air.
Immediately, I could tell something was wrong outside.
Stacy was on the ground in the middle of the cul-de-sac, crying hysterically as James knelt over her holding her. I ran over to them, falling over myself and looking over my shoulder at the open doorway as I did.
As I approached them, I screamed at James.
“WHERE WERE YOU? HOW ARE YOU OUT HERE? WHAT HAPPENED? DID YOU SEE THAT?”
James looked at me, confused.
“Matt… I was the lookout. I never went inside.”
I fell to the floor, my mind swimming. Stacy was still crying hysterically, curled up in a ball as she looked up towards the house they had approached.
James looked up at me and shrugged a scared look on his face.
“I can’t get anything out of her. She won’t talk. I don’t know where Rob is, but we’ve got to get out of here. He probably got freaked out and bolted.”
I picked Stacy up, flung her over my shoulder, and we left. She cried the whole way back, but she wouldn’t talk. Just sobbed quietly and looked back behind us as we trekked through the thorns.
When we got to the tree, we all breathed a sigh of relief when we saw Rob’s cell phone lying on the ground next to it.
We hopped the tree, loaded into James’ car, and drove home. I remember no one spoke a word on that car ride.
James dropped me off first, I came home and began to write this story of my fucked up encounter to you.
But I didn’t post it right away; I wanted to wait. Because you see, it’s been three days now, since the incident at Hampton Institution, and now both Rob and Stacy are missing.
They didn’t show up to school the next day, nor the day after that. When we called his house, no one answered. When we went by their houses, the cars were missing from his driveway.
When we approached the principle about it, he told us their parents had both called and said their families were moving. And when we peeked into his the un-shaded window in Rob’s house yesterday, I saw something that has scared me unconsciously for the past twenty –four hours.
A large wooden table, covered with a black table-cloth, and at each of the five settings, there was a half-finished glass, and a half full ashtray.